One of the worst board games I’ve ever played was a Godzilla game- the late Richard Berg’s Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars was a tremendous misfire executed by a designer who pretty clearly just didn’t really understand what the Kaiju thing was all about and also didn’t bother to turn in a complete, coherent set of rules to the publisher prior to printing. Apparently a complete overhaul of the rules was eventually released but I just went back to off-brand offerings like Avalon Hill’s classic Monsters Menace America and Garfield’s oddly everlasting King of Tokyo to get my kaiju kicks.
Now, as a lifelong Godzilla fan, I must admit that I am particularly demanding about what I want out of a game set among Toho’s fabled stable of rubbery rompers. But it also ain’t hard to meet my rider. There’s got to be a good roster of monsters, tanks, stupid lightning cannons that don’t’really do anything, massive property damage, and for bonus points, Xiliens. Prospero Hall’s new joint issued in partnership with Funko Games, Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, meets my demands. It’s a fun, obnoxious B-list game that doesn’t sport a terribly sophisticated set of mechanisms but makes up for its fairly ho-hum wrasslin’ match format with Godzilla throwing Mothra into a skyscraper , jets screaming in to tickle King Ghidorah with barely effective missiles, and Megalon busting up out of the ground and levelling the block And as if the bonus for the Xiliens wasn’t enough, they also put a Jet Jaguar cameo in there. This is a game made by Godzilla fans, for Godzilla fans and the love shows through.
Table presence is awesome- this is a wonderful production presented at a very respectful and reasonable $35 retail. You get four big, chunky figures and some fun plastic buildings – it’s a shame that the vehicles and small buildings are just meager tokens, really printed too dark for legibility, but there again - $35 retail. The graphic design incorporates untranslated Japanese typography, which nicely honors the cultural origins of the kaiju phenomenon. The illustrations are all lovely- painterly images rather than photos. With the city tiles laid out and everything in place, it’s the kind of game that screams fun in your face, which is really kind of rude, so it’s a good thing it delivers on its promise.
It’s a straight-up, card-driven brawl. It doesn’t really feel skirmish-y, as each player just has one figure. Turns are just playing a card and doing whatever it says – move, attack, special actions. Everything requires energy, which you have to gain by wrecking buildings or vehicles. I’m always worried about these low model count brawlers, that they’ll turn into players sitting in the middle of the board and pummeling each other, but having to back off to eat some buildings solves this problem. The larger buildings also give a bonus, such as pulling a card from discard or looking at another player’s top card. The small buildings, each of which is worth 2 energy, also key to the game’s timer. If the Oxygen Destroyer marker ever crosses the number of small buildings placed on the timeline, it’s instantly over.
I especially like how the damage works in the game – it’s a “cards as health” mechanism. When you damage a Kaiju, its player might have a defense card in hand to play. Any unblocked damage translates to drawing cards off the top of the damaged Kaiju’s deck. The cards all have a Dominance value of 0-3, the attacker gets to keep the highest value card drawn as a Trophy – and that means points at the end of the game. So the more damage that isn’t soaked, the more cards you draw and the better your chances are of getting one of the higher value cards. The winner is the Kaiju who has the highest value of Dominance at the end of the game.
I also really like how events are incorporated into the design. Each game, you pick two big event cards and these represent the non-player elements. This is where the Xiliens show up, zipping around in their UFO and zapping cards out of players’ hands, at least until somebody decides to throw their ship into a power plant. There also tanks that move around and attack everybody but Mothra, trains that move along rails, ships, and jets. None of these make a huge impact on the game, but they are fun and that is what this game prioritizes over anything else.
And that means that this all plays out pretty much exactly how you would want it to with plenty of delightful touches. There are rules for throwing vehicles, throwing Kaiju, and throwing vehicles at Kaiju. King Ghidorah can charge up his heads and unleash a horrifying Barrage attack. Mothra can die and be reborn as a larva. Godzilla can even do that awful victory dance. This is all great fun. Monsters are never KO’d, they just beat the tar out of each other until the off-board humans get their act together and drop the Oxygen Destroyer, and it takes about 45 minutes for that to happen.
I like this timeframe for this kind of game, with less players this goes down by half. But I’m not convinced that this a game worth playing with less than a full four players; I think you need all four monsters on the board for the natural push-and-pull of it to work without the old “let’s you and him fight” problem of the three player match or the single target of the two player game. I’m also sort of iffy on the dramatic arc of the design, as it all kind of occurs along a fairly flat curve which can descend into blow-trading predictability, despite the best efforts of those event cards to shake things up. It doesn’t quite have the intense, fighting game-style depth or mind games that Unmatched, a game of similar format and scope, does and that can make the game feel somewhat thin in comparison.
But you know what, I don’t watch Godzilla versus Monster Zero or whatever for sophisticated, cerebral drama - I watch them for the moments that this game captures and puts onto the table. The focus here is in the giddy excitement of big, dumb monsters lumbering around and squaring off in the downtown area, and the design is focused squarely on this aspect. I find that when I start to feel critical about the design or the fact that there are other games in this design space that are ostensibly “better”, my inner child smirks at me and says “really, dude?”